Just finished Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll Watson Rankin. 1904, middle-grade by today’s categories: four girls get to use a delapidated cottage, owned by the church on their block, as a summer play-house. I checked it out because Beverly Cleary mentioned in A Girl from Yamhill that it was a childhood favorite of hers. (And I see, browsing Goodreads, that I’m not the only one who read it for that reason.) There is lots of housecleaning! And entertaining a real live boarder for three weeks, and a culminating dinner party for the kindly landlord and favorite neighbor.
One thing stood out compared to contemporary books: the rotten new girl who steals, wrecks stuff, and otherwise makes things no fun doesn’t get the note of sympathy or redemption that would be required now. Laura’s parents are mean and negligent, and although the four Dandelion Cottage girls keep reminding each other not to sink to her level, no adult or narrator points out that Laura hasn’t really had friends before, has a tough family life, et cetera. I wonder when sympathy for bullies and “bad kids” became de rigueur– sometime before Mary Stolz’ A Dog on Barkam Street led to The Bully of Barkham Street in 1963?
There are two brief mentions of playing Indian, early in the book. No other content warnings that I can recall.
Dandelion Cottage would make a lovely pair with Elizabeth Enright’s 1958 Gone-Away Lake. And it has a school-story sequel called Girls of Highland Hall, which I have snagged to read on my phone.
The rest of my current reads:
- The Swan and the Seal, by Kristi Lee. She went indie with her sequel to the m/m novella Surprised At Nothing and changed the point of view to my favorite character!
- The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Audiobook. I like the relatively subtle questioning of right-and-wrong, and Simon Jones does a wonderful sardonic Bartimeus! The disappointment is that I was sure Martha Underwood would turn out to be sneaky and powerful. She got Nathan’s real name out of him in the first five minutes! She walked right in on her husband’s meeting with Lovelace! But no, apparently not. :(
- The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds. He has such a strong, easy prose style. It makes me feel like I know the characters, like we hang out all the time.
- Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think I’ll always have a book of hers at hand for odd moments, because something interesting happens on every single page. Moment-to-moment interestingness.
I have been ILL-ing some Margery Williams Bianco, after snagging Winterbound from a Newbery Honor list awhile back and loving it. Kids managing without the grownups! Butch girl makes good!
Other People’s Houses was also good– another sensible teenager on her own, scrambling for temp and domestic jobs in New York City when Plan A has fallen through, and meeting up with her best buddy to commiserate over cheap spaghetti dinners once a week.
Not that I don’t like The Velveteen Rabbit fine, but so far I’ve tried to stay away from the toy-and-doll end of her work, and more toward YA, going by titles and page counts in the card catalog. So I was surprised when Bright Morning turned out to be a sort of “Little House in Victorian London,” stories from the daily lives of sisters age 6 and 8, in a well-to-do family in Kensington.
I assume the delicious domestic details come from the author’s childhood memories, as she was born in 1881 and moved to the U.S. when she was about nine. (The book was published in 1942.) One of my favorite chapters had Mama fretting about when to call the chimney-sweeps in, because once they’ve cleaned everything out, you don’t want to light any more fires that spring and mess it up again. If there’s a cold snap, you’ll just have to shiver. Anyway, once the fireplace is swept clean, it has to be filled for the summer with a cascade of decorative white horsehair with tinsel mixed in. But Papa keeps absent-mindedly continuing to flick his receipts and burnt matches into the fireplace, and they have to be picked out again. So Papa decides to get a WASTEPAPER BASKET, only he and Mama have different ideas about what a proper one is…
I ate it up! It all had the immediacy and detail with which I remember my own childhood. (Wait til you read what respectable bathing at the seashore was like.) The writing reminds me of Elizabeth Enright–maybe I just love 1940s prose?–and I think Betsy-Tacy fans would feel at home too. I’m eager to see what will come in for me next.
I signed up for my first fic exchange, The Exchange at Fic Corner 2013! About a hundred people signed up, and assignments will come out tomorrow. The fandoms I requested are:
Ramona Series – Beverly Clearly
The Melendy Quartet – Elizabeth Enright
Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E. L. Konigsburg
Zahrah the Windseeker – Nnedi Okorafor
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Arlene Sardine – Chris Raschka
The President’s Daughter Series – Ellen Emerson White
As you can probably tell, it’s a kidlit and YA exchange. My letter here has more of my thoughts about these fandoms and what I like and what I wonder.
So I’ve been keeping the Melendy Quartet by my bedside (I like syndicated comic strips or many-times-reread children’s books for bedtime) and reading the chapters all out of order. I wish there were a Great Brain at the Academy type book about Rush at boarding school. That’s the kind of book you dream about reading and then wake up and feel so disappointed that it doesn’t exist after all.
Things I was surprised did not get nominated for The Exchange at Fic Corner: anything by Daniel Pinkwater, The Westing Game, Jean Little’s books about Kate and Emily, the Little House series, and The Hunger Games.
Meanwhile, I read the first book in the British YA adventure series about Alex Rider– Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. Oh, it reminded me so much of reading Nancy Drew books! Better prose, but since I didn’t notice the bad prose in Nancy Drew as a kid, that felt the same too. Our hero is fourteen and always knows how to land the necessary karate kick, except when he doesn’t and gets tied up. So much aplomb, plus spy toys and a giant Portuguese Man o’ War! There was a movie version, but it got a whopping 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.